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Realpolitik Returns: Western Leaders Turn Cold On Arab Spring

Analysis: Western euphoria about the popular uprisings in the Arab world is dissipating – and being replaced by fatalism. The Western powers clearly have no master plan to take the reins of the situation, and in the end, Iran may end up benefiting the mos

Protestors in Tahir, Egypt (Jan. 30, 2011)
Protestors in Tahir, Egypt (Jan. 30, 2011)
Richard Herzinger

BERLIN - At the height of the giddiness over the fall of the Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt, leading German politicians were putting themselves through the wringer. Too long had the West dealt with Arab despots based on the false assumption that only they could guarantee "stability" in the explosive Middle East. From now on, support of human rights and democracy had to form the basis of a values-oriented foreign policy.

Only a few months later, these views, at least as far as government parties are concerned, appear to have been erased from memory. It's as if this spring's revolutions, which didn't shake up just the Arab world, had never taken place. Now, it's all about the controversial planned sales of tanks by Germany to Saudi Arabia. That golden oldie, "realpolitik," is back. Of course, "human rights considerations must play a role, but international security interests take priority," says German Minister of Defense Thomas de Maizière, adding that Saudi Arabia is "one of the most important anchors of stability in the region."

The opposition would be a good deal more credible in its indignation about the tank deal if it had also complained when the German government refused participation in the military intervention to protect Libyan revolutionaries against mass murders perpetrated by Muammar Gaddafi's forces. Or if it kicked in full-on about the West's ongoing inaction in the face of Syrian death and torture squads acting against its own people.

Western political elites are secretly hoping there may be some respite, just a short breather, from the Arabic revolution, which is becoming overwhelming. This second phase of the "Arab Spring" bears no resemblance to the high-flying expectations awakened by those great marches to freedom spawned by the overthrow of the Tunisian and Egyptian governments.

From Bahrain to Yemen, Libya to Syria, those first bursts of exhilaration have turned to bloody conflict, and there is widening dissatisfaction among Egyptians with the transition. It has also become clear that the irreversible changes in the region have not ushered in a peaceful and prosperous Golden Age, but rather years if not decades of volatile and potentially extremely violent fights to establish new – and unknown – orders.

The mood of the public in the West is shifting from projected, and often exaggerated, hopes for the Middle East to fatalism. Because NATO bombing in Libya has not yielded instant capitulation from Gaddafi, and Libyan rebels haven't yet come up with a road map to ensure liberal democracy after Gaddafi is gone, many Western pundits have taken to reflecting on a supposedly senseless war. The tenacity of NATO's involvement has, however, brought Gaddafi's fall that much nearer, although admittedly what happens afterwards as Libya tries to forge its future will be no piece of cake. Yet who would seriously argue that Gaddafi should have been left to his own murderous devices to quell the situation so that, order restored, the West could sit down at the same table with him again?

Democratization is more important than stability

As the despotic Sunni regimes fall, the West is increasingly aware of the extent of strategic changes in store for the Middle East. Fear is growing that Iran (and even more, an Iran with atomic weapons) will have the most to gain from this. There is much to be said for ensuring balance by equipping the Saudis with modern weapons – an approach reflected in recent U.S. policy as well.

It would be disastrous to bind realpolitik at any price with the recent fetishistic fixation on "stability." Going back to the old order is not in the cards -- but neither is the drafting of a master plan that would give the West a way to drive future developments in the region. The situations in the various countries concerned are far too diverse and volatile for that.

However, instead of running after situations as they develop, the West must actively steer the inevitable changes in the direction of freedom and the rule of law. It must establish and focus on priorities that have a positive influence on the global development of the region, such as the further democratization of Egypt through strong civil and secular government and institutions, and binding Libya to the West once Gaddafi is gone.

Among the rampant risks of the present Middle Eastern situation also lie unsuspected opportunities. Israel is presently under much less international pressure than it had before the various regional uprisings. No longer are Western governments alone in seeing Israel as an island of stability in a sea of excessive violence and threatening unpredictability.

Even Turkey, eager to boost its image as a hardboiled opponent of "Zionism" and protector of the Palestinians, has at least temporarily de-escalated its tone with regard to Israel. That's the only way to interpret Turkey's withdrawal from the "Gaza Flotilla." Only a year ago Turkish authorities were using the flotilla as an anti-Israel propaganda tool. Ankara's Islamic government has also had to come to terms with the fact that it bet on the wrong horses by wooing Syria and Libya – at a cost of billions to the Turkish economy. To normalize business dealings with Israel would certainly be more lucrative.

This situation offers the West the chance to involve Turkey in joint strategic plans for the Middle East. Tragically, it is just at this decisive period of transition in the region that the United States and Europe are in the throes of massive debt crises that not only reduce their scope for negotiation but make financial support increasingly unpopular. Yet for the West to turn its back on the Middle East could, in the long term, cost it infinitely more than any investment in the future they might make now.

Read the original story in German

Photo - Floris Van Cauwelaert

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What's Spoiling The Kids: The Big Tech v. Bad Parenting Debate

Without an extended family network, modern parents have sought to raise happy kids in a "hostile" world. It's a tall order, when youngsters absorb the fears (and devices) around them like a sponge.

Image of a kid wearing a blue striped sweater, using an ipad.

Children exposed to technology at a very young age are prominent today.

Julián de Zubiría Samper


BOGOTÁ — A 2021 report from the United States (the Youth Risk Behavior Survey) found that 42% of the country's high-school students persistently felt sad and 22% had thought about suicide. In other words, almost half of the country's young people are living in despair and a fifth of them have thought about killing themselves.

Such chilling figures are unprecedented in history. Many have suggested that this might be the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but sadly, we can see depression has deeper causes, and the pandemic merely illustrated its complexity.

I have written before on possible links between severe depression and the time young people spend on social media. But this is just one aspect of the problem. Today, young people suffer frequent and intense emotional crises, and not just for all the hours spent staring at a screen. Another, possibly more important cause may lie in changes to the family composition and authority patterns at home.

Firstly: Families today have fewer members, who communicate less among themselves.

Young people marry at a later age, have fewer children and many opt for personal projects and pets instead of having children. Families are more diverse and flexible. In many countries, the number of children per woman is close to or less than one (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong among others).

In Colombia, women have on average 1.9 children, compared to 7.6 in 1970. Worldwide, women aged 15 to 49 years have on average 2.4 children, or half the average figure for 1970. The changes are much more pronounced in cities and among middle and upper-income groups.

Of further concern today is the decline in communication time at home, notably between parents and children. This is difficult to quantify, but reasons may include fewer household members, pervasive use of screens, mothers going to work, microwave ovens that have eliminated family cooking and meals and, thanks to new technologies, an increase in time spent on work, even at home. Our society is addicted to work and devotes little time to minors.

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